Measure a Town by the Streets

Tire-sized cavity under the surface…

I want to compliment the Maintenance Department for the City of Fernandina Beach.    I spend a lot of time driving around town and usually call if I see something like the pothole below.   At an intersection, on a Friday at 3:30PM, this looked like something in need of repair before a weekend.

After talking with Kathy Sabatini, at the roads and streets maintenance number, I happened to drive past the same intersection a little less than 1 1/2 hours later.   Good job!

Small town maintenance departments often run at a deficit.  Just keeping up with paving roads can be a challenge, not to mention budgeting for sustainable maintenance.   Rex Lester, Jeremiah Glissen, Kathy Sabatini and the entire maintenance department deserve recognition.    They obviously care about Fernandina, have pride in providing excellent service and to see this corrected in less than 90 minutes on a Friday afternoon….   I can only say THANK YOU!

Lime and 14th Liberty Development Project…What We Should Know!

Source: PAB City of FB

Development can be a difficult business, but the general public is often unaware of steps required in using land and efforts by developers to use land, while protecting environmentally sensitive areas. Fernandina Beach is blessed with a surplus of protected land, including parks, beachfront, marshes, waterways, recreational zoned areas and, yes, jurisdictional wetland. The common perception of wetland is of land with standing water or a bird at the edge of Egan’s Creek.


Pines Line 14th Street

In developing Lime and 14th, Liberty Development took time to find a better solution and considered what was more sensitive to the community, when he could have chosen to avoid the very political process.  If you look at the property, you can see the raised areas of roadway near the property…essentially trapping additional water and nearby development, forcing added burden on the property. At elevations of 12′ to 19′, according to the Nassau County GIS system, the land isn’t particularly low, but drainage does move across properties during a storm and all wetlands aren’t at low elevation. By the way, the 12′ elevation is in a ditch, running through the property along an unopened easement.

Nassau County GIS Mapping

The problem I have with criticizing development of this property is in seeing it as a pristine, untouched parcel, when it has been negatively impacted by surrounding roads, wetland and drainage. Key points below cover some of the information provided in a Planning and Advisory Board document and in the upcoming required information posted by the USACE. The developer made exceptional effort to propose a development with less impact, even though he could have easily filled the site before annexation, based on SJRWMD and Nassau County requirements. Liberty Development and Spurgeon Richardson deserve credit for taking the time to look for community input, bringing much needed market rate housing and taking the time to minimize wetland impacts.  If you look below, the applicant is also purchasing valuable mitigation land to offset the impact to this site.

City of Fernandina Beach Staff has issued a recommendation of approval. The Planning Advisory Board considered the requested Voluntary Annexation at its Regular Meeting on September 14, 2016, and issued a recommendation of approval. On October 18, 2016, the City Commission approved this Ordinance at First Reading. Source: FBFL.US PAB Summary and Introduction 6/20/17

AVOIDANCE AND MINIMIZATION INFORMATION: – The applicant obtained authorization from the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD Permit 143031-1) to eliminate the entire on site wetland area (totaling 12.75 acres). However, the applicant conducted a financial analysis and determined that the project could be economically viable with a net 224 multi-family units. In consideration of that analysis, the applicant revised the project design to eliminate a portion of the work affecting the on site wetland. In consideration of the design revisions, the applicant purports that the project avoids and minimizes work affecting the wetland to the maximum extent practicable. COMPENSATORY MITIGATION: – The applicant submitted a Wetland Rapid Assessment Procedure (WRAP) quantifying and qualifying the wetland functions and services that would be eliminated by the work proposed. In consideration of that WRAP, as compensatory mitigation, the applicant would purchase 4.85 Federal palustrine forested credits from the Longleaf Mitigation Bank. ENDANGERED SPECIES: The Corps has determined the project would have no effect on Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) or its designated critical habitat.PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to discharge clean fill material over a total of 9.7 acres of wetlands to facilitate the establishment of a mixed-use development, which would include associated infrastructure, parking, amenities, and storm water management.  Source: 6/20/17 US Army Corps of Engineers

On a final note, I was the acting Mayor of the City of Fernandina Beach,  when this project was first proposed.  While I was not a part of the final approvals, I felt it was my responsibility to consider every project carefully.   This developer deserves praise.  He sought local consensus from the community.   Given the final product, the project is something the community should be proud of in this location. Not only did he go to great lengths to preserve wetland, he showed restraint in moving through a process….looking for a more accepted product.  He actually held permits to move forward with clearing/mitigation, without annexation and the established procedure, in conflicting jurisdiction rules, defaults to a St. John’s River Water Management ruling.  In other words, the developer went above and beyond the steps required.

Ditch with Trash in the Center of Property

Dirt road through center of property….at edge of ditch.


Wiccademous, Pirate’s Treasure and Hurricanes….Marijuanna Smugglers, Giant Snakes, Bears, Hauntings, Hidden Springs, Commissioners with Pet Alligators, Various and Sundry Rumors of Foul-Play…

“A little nonsense now and then….” 

Amelia Island has its share of legends.  After all, we were home to famous pirates, like Louis Aury and “entrepreneurs” often revered, but little better than legal pirates.  With


Shrimper or ?

the oldest saloon in Florida, parts of town with a history of smuggling and streets named for questionable businesses, you’d think Fernandina residents would enjoy the stories.  We still have those more interested in finding a reason a story can’t be true, than in enjoying the local color.
Bring a sense of adventure and enjoy the island and it’s stories.  We have a rich history and you’ll collect or make a few of your own.   Don’t spend too much time looking for the reasons to call the old stories a hoax.  Think about MaVynee Betsch.   If someone described her to you, and you didn’t know the history of the island, would you believe?  How about the exploding boatload of marijuana in the 70’s?  The entire North Beach was covered and for days, the police department tried to stop


Cuban Tree Frog

people, driving from hours away, from picking up garbage bags of contraband.   Lynyrd Skynyrd played locally for a sherif’s race and one of the high school teachers was a family member.   A city commissioner once dumped a truckload of manure on the courthouse steps or maybe it was City Hall..  Another man held himself at gunpoint over a land dispute…in front of the post office.    A local bartender at the oldest bar in Florida was elected as Mayor.    Giant Cuban Treefrogs are now on Amelia Island.   Which stories are true or are they all true?

Years ago, I came across a 10′ plus diamondback rattler near the old public dump on the island.  I could only measure the snake by the roadway it lay across.  With a head over one edge and the tail over the other, it must have been one of the biggest rattlers ever witnessed.  At 10 or 11 years old, with my dog and no witnesses, I can’t prove any of it. Proximity to an old dump, nearness to warmer tidal water from a creek and proximity to unlimited food, led me to believe the snake grew for a reason.

Around the same time, I saw a very large woodpecker with a light-colored beak.  Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were considered extinct at the time but, debate over existence aside, I know what I saw.  As a kid, I didn’t know woodpeckers were supposed to be rare or extinct.  I only knew it looked bigger than a pileated and the beak was light.

I’m going around my elbow to make a point.  Some stories may be true and some may be tall tales, but enjoying the truth and rich fiction or fact is much more fun than trying to debunk every interesting bit of local color.


Hurricane Dora in 1964?

My family lives on land near the subject of the Wiccademous story.  At one time, our land was owned by a gypsy/fortune-teller(?) woman and later, someone with a houseful of dogs .  He threw so many liquor bottles into the attic and the woods, I found bottles by the hundreds, in the nearby swamp.  Anyway, every few months, someone comes through the property with a story about the Wiccademous

and a camera or video recorder.   The first time, I pointed them down the street…not much fun.  By the fourth or fifth group, I started to ask if they were looking for the legendary owner of our land 75-100 years ago?  We have the largest oaks in the area and it is much more fun to send a group to the big oak at the rear of the property, than it would be to ruin the fun!   Besides, the stories might be true!

Glenwood Deep Water Point…Price Reduction

Looking for deep water?   Does 1800 feet of frontage sound interesting?   Minutes to Amelia Island and a short boat trip to Downtown Fernandina, this is a singularity unique homesite.  Existing caretaker cottage and accessible,  read more……click the link here.   22+ acres and substantial price reduction!

Glenwood Point

Glenwood Point

20 Suggestions for Clients

Over the years, I’ve watched clients choose to do the wrong thing or make the process 2ceab9eb-e96a-4a23-b080-afa544f22501more difficult.   Whether using a local provider, keeping the relationship with an agent on a professional level or being willing to pay for essential items, real estate sales should be a good experience.  I have a timeline and generally look for the best way to move from contract to closing.   I’m working for my client, but there are times when a clients wants something that might not help smooth the process.   The suggestions below are general thoughts on moving through the process, without adding bumps.

Beyond all, #6 and “Listen to your Broker”, is helpful.  If your agent or broker wants to know what you think, it doesn’t mean he or she isn’t ready to offer advice.   Communicating your preferences should include a preference for your agent/broker’s opinion.  I’ve had 30 or more years in this business and am always happy to share an opinion.

  1. Always have a budget in mind.
  2. Be willing to walk away from any offer.
  3. Check ego at the door.  Berating someone working for you is not helping.
  4. If borrowing money, be prequalified and have proof of downpayment.
  5. Be willing to pay for a home inspection.
  6. Listen to your broker.
  7. Walk away from an agent or broker if they don’t listen to you.
  8. Binder/deposits make a difference.  Bigger is better.
  9. Don’t ask for too much time in an offer.   Be realistic.
  10. Remove unnecessary contingencies in offers.
  11. Keep it short.  Complexitiy is usually not helpful.
  12. Use standard contract forms.   (FAR or FARBAR)
  13. Always consult an attorney for legal advice.
  14. Close with attorneys.
  15. Buy a survey.
  16. Pay for inspections.
  17. Always buy title insurance.
  18. Use local lenders.
  19. While I’m at it….use local providers for everything.  The mistakes often happen when someone unfamiliar with the area misses something.
  20. Ask for an estimate of costs “BEFORE SIGNING” a listing or offer.

Coyote on Citrona and Belvedere Avenue Fernandina

I know the picture isn’t great, but this was taken from the best frame of a video I managed with the phone.   About 9:50, it ran past the car on Citrona and turned down Belvedere.   The color is brown with some grey and, at first, I thought it was a stray dog.  It looked to be about 40 to 50 pounds.   It was thin, but definitely not missing meals.


File for Homestead Exemption or Revise Status Online

Did you purchase a home or move to a home in Florida, making it your primary residence?  Did you leave the state, renting a former primary residence?  Remember to file for homestead or change your status, if needed.

File Online option for Nassau County: 

“If you purchased property in calendar year 2017, you may file online beginning May 1st, 2017, for the 2018 Homestead Exemption reduction. This exemption will be reflected on your notice of proposed taxes we send out in August 2018. If you do not want to wait until May 1 you have the option to come in the office and file.”  Source: Nassau County Property Appraiser 2017.  

Homestead Exemption ( Florida Statute 196.031) is a constitutional guarantee that reduces the taxable value of residential property for qualified permanent residents.

“196.031 Exemption of homesteads.— (1)(a) A person who, on January 1, has the legal title or beneficial title in equity to real property in this state and who in good faith makes the property his or her permanent residence or the permanent residence of another or others legally or naturally dependent upon him or her, is entitled to an exemption”…. 6/6/2017

In order to apply for homestead exemption, the following documents are needed:

  • Recorded deed or tax bill in your name. (Preferably recorded deed)
  • Florida driver’s license showing permanent residence address.
    License must show permanent residence by January 1st of the filing year
  • Florida vehicle registration.
  • Nassau County voter registration card, if you are a registered voter.
  • Social Security number
  • Date of Birth
  • Property owned with dwellings outside of Nassau County: Must show proof of cancellation of any residency required exemption or homestead exemption.
  • If filing for portability: Copy of property information on previous Florida homestead.
  • If not a U.S. Citizen: Copy of residency (green) card.
  • If you are active military: Copy of L.E.S. showing Florida as state of legal residence.
  • If property is held in a trust: Must provide trust papers.
  • If filing on a mobile home: Provide certificate of registration or title to show mobile home is in your name.

All of the above information is required of both husband and wife, even if the property is in only one name.

*Pursuant to Florida Statute 196.011 (8), any applicant who is qualified to receive any exemption under subsection (1) and who fails to file an application by March 1, must file an application for exemption with the property appraiser on or before the 25th day following the mailing by the property appraiser of the notices required under s. 194.011 (1).

Topo Lines and Site Expense

I’m looking at a lot today and some of the issues surrounding a new build began to go through my mind.  All identifying information is removed, other than the rough

elevation lines from the GIS system here in Nassau County.  Elevation can be costly in several ways.  First, areas prone to flooding require the finished floor at or above a specified elevation just to buy flood insurance without a premium.  The municipality also requires minimum elevations.  If you look at the image, an AE 11 Flood zone on this lot, might require 5 or more feet of stem wall, parking underneath the building or a “LOT” of fill dirt.  It all adds to cost, but there are other issues.  If you don’t fill, consider where the driveway works.  Do you want to drive downhill?  This lot looks like 6 to 7 feet below a roadway.  The foundation and site work become expensive, but might also dictate the location of driveway and seriously increase cost.

Beyond fill, some lots require backfill or removal of organic material below the soil.  It is prudent to consider the possibility and, if in doubt at all, have soil testing done before closing.  There could be high water content, clay or organic material in the soil.  Off-grade foundations might be prone to mold, when built in low elevation areas with high water content in the soil.   A good engineer can help, but buyers need time to test and should consider the cost to use a lot as much as they consider the purchase price.

Finally, check the current flood zones.  FEMA zones in the Fernandina area change in August.  You may remain the same, but some parcels are seeing a dramatic change.  Some parts of South Fletcher are moving from X to VE 11.

Signing Agreements Walk-Through

This is just a brief description of the steps needed to open and sign a document with eSignOnline™.  There are other programs, but this is the system I’m currently using and, in my opinion, one of the easiest to share.   Some of the features include the ability to delegate the signature to another party, copy someone, like your attorney, and a way to easily sign on mobile devices as well as a computer.  esignpic

Issues sometimes include checking the spam or junk email file, the common problem of forgetting to accept the terms of the agreement and click the final “YES”, when finished.  The message will have my name attached, but does have another address.  The paper saved in using an electronic signature is astounding.  Consider agreements with an average of 10-12 pages.   Copies for each version, copies on each end, faxes….it adds up! Paper storage, stamps, time and errors make traditional contracts far more cumbersome.  Electronic signatures also require every initial in every required location, before you’re prompted to complete your session.  The length of contracts usually meant I frequently found myself reminding clients to add missing signatures or initials.

When complete, a session ID is attached to the document and a second “Certificate of Authenticity” document is copied to all parties.   The system is subject to errors on the agent’s side and I’ve made a few.  All were easy corrections, but it is possible.  Always check your document if you move from paper to electronic.  Count pages to be sure every page is included and look for every initial and signature placement.  Occasionally a form will have misplaced initials.

Coming Summer Market the Fall Bump and Fresh Starts

Memorial Day, or any holiday, seems to be a slow day.   Tourism is not usually the client driver you might expect and I’ve learned the holidays are more productively spent with family.   So, I’m thinking about the coming few months, while working on several social media promotions.

Improvements I hope to make are in advertising and reaching more qualified clients.  With scaling to ads based on the dollars spent, putting my face in front of clients is sometimes a challenge.  I’m usually selling quality service over advertising dollar.  Single agents are often only a public face for a team …now you know.   While the tactic does work, I would not choose to present individual agents, when counting team sales.   My approach has been to offer access and service.  I’m almost always available and have decades of experience to tap.   The fewer steps between a call and my voice, the more business I capture.   So, improving advertising means finding the clients and retaining clients after they reach me.

A side project involves a small subdivision on the island.  The going is slow, but we are moving forward with, at a minimum, a minor subdivision.  Minor subdivisions are, essentially, splitting a property into two pieces.  It can be done once, if all other criteria are met.  The cost for a minor subdivision is less and further subdivision can happen at a later date.  I’ll either subcontract out the construction or find a buider-partner to build on the lots.   Timing may run into 2019.

Several of my commercial listings are likely to move in the coming few months.   12 North 2nd is one site with three adjacent lots across from the Palace Saloon.  The adjacent lot is seeing significant attention this month, with at least 4 site visits from buyers in the last 2 weeks.   I’m looking for more to represent, simply because the time required to sell a commercial property can be longer than the 4 to 6 months for residential property in an average year.

With two more homes on the list, keeping several residential properties in inventory is important.  I had 3 new residential  listings on the way and am now down to 2.   Both should sell before fall.  Listings are the “bread n’ butter, but small offices need to think about long and short-term listings.  Residential properties often sell a little more quickly.  The same work might go into a shorter term listing or a commercial property taking 1 to 2 years to sell, but similar numbers of showings are still required.   I worry more if my entire inventory moves to commercial or vacant land.   The income predictability becomes a problem and, with over 500 agents working in the Amelia Island area, clients are seeing the competition daily.

Selling seasons are or were usually best at two points in the year.   Spring selling, or buying, always seemed to come before summer vacation, but the second bump is in September/October.   The past few years didn’t follow traditional rules, but I look for stronger sales every fall.   I move advertising to the most active times of the year.   After fall, mid-November to the first week of January, is slow.   If your home somehow doesn’t sell in the more active season, it may be a good idea to pull the property for the holiday.  If I see low showing activity and a frustrated owner, I often suggest the break.   Making a fresh start is good for promotion and I don’t like to burn a client out with showings during the holiday.   This generally holds true for occupied homes, but not vacant property or a “need to sell” listing.  If your home is vacant, the vacancy is a higher cost.   Just keep remember the drop in activity during a holidays and don’t assume your agent stopped working.